Tuesday, February 28, 2017

I'll Never Work in This Town Again!

[So speaking as we were yesterday of producer Lewis Merenstein, I thought I'd repost this piece from 2013. Enjoy, if possible. -- S.S.]

Okay, I'm about to admit something that I've never admitted to another living soul, and certainly not to another living rock critic, for what will be obvious reasons.


I do not now care, and have never particularly cared, for Van Morrison's Astral Weeks.

Okay, there I've said it.

Which, of course, given the album's status as pretty much the holiest bovinae in the entire rock album canon, is more or less akin to confessing I was glad the Greek colonels overthrew King Constantine.

And lest you think I'm just being difficult, or trying to generate some sort of blog-hit controversy, I'm not. I don't dislike the album; it simply doesn't talk to me. Maybe it's genetic, I dunno, but I just find it a little dull. So sue me.

I bring all this up because the other day -- having some more than usual time on my hands -- I finally got around to purchasing a copy of an album called Tax Free that I've been meaning to check out for ages. And therein lies a tale.

Longtime readers are aware of my fondness for a Dutch 60s beat group called The Outsiders (not to be confused with the American greaseball outfit of the same name and era who hit it big with "Time Won't Let Me.")

The Dutch Outsiders never had any of their music released in this country, but they were pretty big in Europe and they've developed a cult following in recent years; some folks claim they're the best 60s band for whom English was not their original language, and while I won't go that far, they were pretty damn good. Maybe not world class, but definitely worth hearing in that sort of Stones/Pretty Things snarling r&b derived rock style that was all the rage back then.

In any case, Tax Free was the band Outsiders singer Wally Tax formed after the breakup of that bunch, and unlike the rest of his previous oeuvre, their eponymous elpee was actually released -- albeit to an utterly oblivious public -- in the US of A.

What I didn't know until recently is that Tax Free's eponymous album has often been compared to Astral Weeks, presumably because it's produced by Lewis Merenstein (who produced AW), it features Richard Davis (who did similar duty on AW) on upright bass, it's in the same pastoral more or less acoustic quasi-jazz style as AW, and because it, like AW, makes me very, very sleepy.

Have I mentioned that John Cale plays viola on the album?

Anyhow, all of this is a very roundabout way of setting up a Compare and Contrast that may prove edifying.

From 1965, it's the angry young Them (featuring Van Morrison) and "I Can Only Give You Everything"...

...and from 1968, it's the not so angry Van Morrison (from Astral Weeks) and "Cypress Avenue."

Meanwhile, from 1967, here are the savage young The Outsiders (featuring Wally Tax) and "Story 16"...

...and from 1970, here are the far more genteel Tax Free (featuring Wally Tax) and "Yiva."

Seriously -- do either of those examples strike you guys as some kind of musical evolution? Or at least one worth writing home about?

Because what I hear in both cases -- and yes, obviously I'm exaggerating to make a point -- is more like a failure of nerve.

Monday, February 27, 2017

It Came From New Haven!!!

And speaking as we were on Friday of The Easybeats, commenter mainuh had this to say:

[In the late 60s] I roadied (lol) for a hometown band signed to Buddha records -- Jennifer's Friends. Their first single was written by Vanda and Young -- "The Land of Make Believe". They opened for Neil Young and Crazy Horse in a basement made into a music venue (The Stone Balloon). I was lucky enough to sit 6 feet to Neils left that night and got to hang out with the band in the green room later.

The song mainuh's referring to is a terrific sort of post-Sgt. Pepper psychedelic pop ditty that appeared on the Easy's great second album Vigil in 1968; it's been covered a lot, actually (in Britain and Europe), as so many Vanda and Young songs were back in the day.

Here's the original (as it appeared on the B-side to the Easy's epochal "Good Times.")

And here's the Jennifer's Friends version.

Not as good as the Easy's, but totally credible, IMHO. Producer Lewis Merenstein, incidentally, is best known today for having been behind the console for the recording of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, so obviously he had something on the ball.

Mainuh didn't say it, but apparently Jennifer's Friends were from the New Haven CT area. He did, however, inform me that JF's keyboard player Mark Lipson is now a cantor.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Weekend Listomania: Special Best-Of Lists Are Bullshit, So Here's a Best-Of List! Edition

Well, it's Friday, and you know what that means.

Yes, yours truly and my Asian Pussy Magnet for Donald Trump gal Friday Fah Lo Suee are off to play golf at Mar-a-Lago with President Bullshit McGee (thank you, Keith Olbermann).

That said, posting will be irregular until our return. Safely, one assumes.

But in the meantime, here's a fun little project for all of us to wile away the idle hours until regular stuff resumes.


No arbitrary rules of any kind, you're welcome very much, but if I disagree with your picks I will be more sympathetic to them if they were actual singles rather than album cuts. I should also add that all of these song choices are obviously subjective and based on my own incredibly ancient sensibilities. I mean, shit -- I'm a zillion years old; who cares what I like.

And so, without any further ado, here's my totally top-of-my-head top twelve.

12. Kirsty MacColl -- They Don't Know

One of these days, if I'm ever diagnosed with a fatal disease, I'm gonna find the shithead tourist who ran their speedboat over Kirsty while she was vacationing with her kids, thus killing her. And then blow their fucking brains out with a pistol. Seriously -- there's a special circle in hell reserved for that jackass.

11. The Move -- Tonight

I believe this was the very last thing Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne recorded before they transmogrified into ELO. In any case, an all but perfect power pop record.

10. Shocking Blue -- Serenade

I love these guys (and their late lead singer Mariska Veres) big time. This song, by genius auteur Robbie van Leeuwen, is particularly amazing; consider the intro, which features finger-picked acoustic guitar over scratchy electric rhythm and goes on for almost a minute before the vocals enter.

9. Prince -- Guitar

Have I mentioned that the only upside to the tragic early death of Prince last year is that all his stuff is finally available on YouTube? This one, which dates from sometime in the 'aughts, is sly, funny, and features great -- quel surprise -- guitar work. Why was this not a hit?

8. Marvin Gaye -- Ain't That Peculiar

This is technically an r&b record, but like lots of Motown stuff, it's pretty much indistinguishable from straight-ahead rock-and-roll. One of the most exciting singles of the Sixties, no matter how you classify it.

7. Elvis Presley -- Ain't That Lovin' You Baby

This is an outtake, which didn't surface till the 80s (I believe) on a posthumous compilation LP celebrating Elvis as blues singer. The previous officially released version has a lot of extraneous stuff (lame background vocals, etc.) but this one is just great kick-ass rock by the King and a tough as nails little supporting band.

6. The Easybeats -- Heaven and Hell

Vanda and Young's 60s masterpiece.

5. Marcus Hook Roll Band -- Natural Man

Vanda and Young's 70s masterpiece.

4. The Byrds -- Lady Friend

David Crosby's swansong with his pioneering folk-rockers, and possibly the best song he ever wrote (this is the 80s remixed version with overdubbed drums by the guy in Crosby's then touring band -- Byrds purists don't like it, but I do.) The Flamin' Groovies, who have good taste in these matters, did a very nice cover of it, BTW.

3. The Beach Boys -- Trader

The genius of Carl Wilson. May I just say, and for the record, that if anybody tells me the Beach Boys were white bread bullshit then I'm gonna take a hostage? Thank you.

2. Stealer's Wheel -- Everyone's Agreed That Everything Will Turn Out Fine

The incredible single version (psychedelic power pop doesn't get any better). Avoid the album re-make like the plague

And the number one best post-Elvis (should be an acknowledged classic and if you disagree with this assessment I will come to your house and fart in your general direction) song quite obviously is...

1. Nazz -- Open My Eyes

The first time I ever heard this -- which I bought on the recommendation of a Jon Landau review in Rolling Stone (yeah, I know) I felt like my head had been split open. I still think it's the perfect rock record.

Alrighty then -- what would YOUR choices be?

And have a great weekend, everybody!!!

[h/t and inspiration by our good pal Sal Nunziato]

Thursday, February 23, 2017

School's Out!

From last week, in Brisbane, Australia, please enjoy Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band with a kid in the audience who was skipping school. And a quite wonderful impromptu version of "Growin' Up."

I've said this before and I'll say it again -- Bruce is a genuine living saint.

And if this doesn't bring a smile to your lips or a tear to your eye -- please seek medical attention.

My favorite comment over at YouTube: "If there was a Nobel Prize for bringing joy to the world Bruce would win it every time."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Programming Notes From All Over

The Lemon Twigs -- i.e., the rock star kids of my old bandmate Ronnie D'Addario (it is he who sings the divine harmonies on the Floor Models "Letter From Liverpool") -- are the musical guests on tonight's Late Show With Stephen Colbert.

This, of course, is yet another reason to watch Colbert ce soir (the first being to enjoy his making merciless fun of whatever stupid thing President Money Boo Boo did or said today).

In any case, I hate those two kids, for obvious reasons, but that said -- the last time they were on TV (with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, a couple of months ago) they were using the restored 1961 Fender Bassman amp I gave them on permanent loan...

...and perhaps they will be using it tonight as well. Look for it, won't you?

Hey -- I'll take any bit of reflected glory I can get.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Your Tuesday Moment of Words Fail Me

From 2015, please enjoy British sibling act The Staves and their utterly astounding cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire."

My favorite comment over at YouTube: "These girls could make dogshit sound incredible."

Seriously -- I know sisterhood is powerful, but this is ridiculous.

[h/t Stoat]

Monday, February 20, 2017

Great Faces for Radio

From 2016, please enjoy the incomparable (if less than prepossessing) Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts and their quite kick-ass "Heavy Metal."

I gotta say -- I've seen much cuter bands. On the other hand, this is a very very cool song.

And in case you're wondering -- yes, Miles is power pop icon Rick Nielsen's kid.

[h/t dmark]

Friday, February 17, 2017

Pretty Fly for a Bunch of White Guys

From sometime (possibly) in the early 80s, please enjoy the incomparable Graham Parker and the Rumour and their pretty terrific studio version of the Jackson 5 classic "I Want You Back."

I'm not sure when this was actually released; there's a live version from 1979 that can be found on the bonus disc on the reissue of Squeezing Out Sparks, but I'm a bit confused about the provenance of this one and what album it originally appeared on. If anyone can enlighten me, I'd be your best friend.

I should add that Graham Parker is the only pop star...

...that I ever looked like.

Okay, that's not strictly true. As you can also see, Gary Lewis (son of Jerry) of The Playboys fame...

...looks pretty eerily like me in high school.

I always wanted to be the Jewish Keith Richards, but it's pretty obvious from those pictures that it was never gonna happen.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Why Isn't This Guy a Household Word? (An Occasional Series): Special Can't We All Just Get Along? Edition

From 2010, please behold in breathless wonder star of the week Robbie Fulks and his quite astonishing cover of...Michael Jackson's "Black or White."

I say this a lot, but this time I really mean it -- words fail me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why Isn't This Guy a Household Word? (An Occasional Series): Special Everybody's Working for the Weekend Edition

From 1998, this week's star Robbie Fulks proposes -- in interesting power pop terms -- "Let's Kill Saturday Night."

And from 1979, the angry young Graham Parker suggests this is unnecessary because "Saturday Night is Dead."

Already, obviously.

Wow -- I'll bet you guys can't possibly guess whose music I'll be posting tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Why Isn't This Guy A Household Word? (An Occasional Series): Special Is This Turning Into Robbie Fulks Week? Edition

From 1999, please enjoy Robbie's ode to another pop icon -- "That Bangle Girl."

"I'd play her my records," indeed, Robbie. Indeed.

Although, I must admit -- for me the Bangle girl was, and always will be, Michael Steele.

A redhead. And a bass player. I mean, c'mon.

BTW -- I'd forgotten who played the chauffeur in this great Bangles video.

Damn, all of a sudden I really miss the 80s.

[h/t Matt Mitchell]

Monday, February 13, 2017

Why Isn't This Guy a Household Word (An Occasional Series): Special And Adele Walks the Streets a Free Woman Edition

From some time in this century (sorry, I don't know the exact year), please enjoy alt-folk genius Robbie Fulks and the Neil Diamond/Monkees classic "I'm a Believer."

Done in the style of Thelonious Monk.

In its own sneakily subversive way, this may actually be funnier than the Fulks "Fountains of Wayne Hotline" I posted last Friday.

Friday, February 10, 2017

It's Rock Novelty Records Week: Part V (Special Saving the Best For Last Edition)

From 2005, please enjoy alt-folkie icon Robbie Fulks and his absolutely fricking hilarious pastiche/homage/parody masterpiece "Fountains of Wayne Hotline."

"Oh, that Gerald."

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

It's Rock Novelty Records Week: Part IV (Special Keep Watching the Skiesl Edition)

From 1956, please enjoy the great Buchanan and Goodman with the Mother of Them All -- "The Flying Saucer (Part 1 and 2)."

If you're not of a certain age, you really can't imagine how utterly unexpected and hilarious this single sounded back in the day. And who knew that Buchanan and Goodman had, in a pre-digital age, pretty much invented sampling?

And now, because I love you all more than food, from his classic 1975 album A Star is Bought, here's Albert Brooks and his Buchanan and Goodman tribute -- "Party in Outer Space." Its brilliant gimmick? All the "hits" are fake.

I particularly like the cameos by Lassie.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

It's Rock Novelty Records Week (An Occasional Series): Part III (Special Our Friends the Armenians Edition)

From 1958, please enjoy the genius of David Seville (aka Ross Bagdasarian)...

...and the sequentially monikered "Almost Good"...

...and "Mediocre."

Those were the b-sides to "The Chipmunk Song" and "Alvin's Harmonica," respectively. There were giants in the earth in those days.

Interesting trivia note: In 1939, Bagdasarian performed in the original Broadway production of The Time of Your Life, written by his then more famous cousin William Saroyan.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

It's Rock Novelty Records Week (An Occasional Series): Part II (Special Mea Culpa Edition)

From 1974, please enjoy the incomparable Credibility Gap and the greatest Rod McKuen parody ever.

This is not technically speaking a novelty record -- it's just a track from one of the most brilliant comedy albums of all time -- but I feel compelled to post it because, in yesterday's post, I described McKuen as "sandal wearing."

This was massively inaccurate. As my old college chum Eric C. Boardman pointed out to me yesterday, "Mr. McKuen famously wore dirty sneakers---with jeans and turtleneck sweater." And I should have known this, if only because the title of the McKuen parody above is "In Someone's Sneakers."

I regret the error.

Monday, February 06, 2017

It's Rock Novelty Records Week (An Occasional Series): Part I (Special Listen to the Warm Edition)

From 1959, please enjoy (if that is the word) famed voice-over guy Bob McFadden and his deeply annoying hit "The Mummy."

Written by, of all people, none other than sandal-wearing best selling poet of all time Rod McKuen.

From the great album Songs Our Mummy Taught Us, BTW.

And in case you're wondering, no -- I have no idea who Dor is supposed to be.

Coming tomorrow...nope, not gonna tell you. Hey, I suffered for my art -- now its YOUR turn.

Friday, February 03, 2017

The Dog Days of Winter

Okay, so long-time readers are doubtless aware that I have been spending my Golden Years in an attempt to digitize every loud noise I have ever made.

To that end, I was recently -- i.e., Wednesday night -- in a sophisticated recording studio transferring some basic instrumental tracks (sans vocals) of songs by my 70s band The Hounds.

Those were recently re-discovered 4-track tapes unheard by anybody, let alone me, for decades, and given the vagaries of time (and the crappy tape stock from those years) it's a wonder any of them survived. But to my delighted surprise, they did (some occasional drop-out notwithstanding).

And here's my favorite.

Ladies and gentlemen, please rock out to -- "Do It."

The rhythm guitar on the right channel is by the song's author (and my old college chum) Tony Forte; all the other guitars, including the solo, are by some asshole whose name rhymes with Sleeve Nimels. The drums are by another old college colleague, Robert Albiston, and the bass is by total pro and fellow Jersey boy John Faison, who was way too good for us. It's a little sloppy in parts, but I think it sounds pretty cool nonetheless.

I should add that while the instrumental track is, as you can hear, deliberately Stones-ish, the vocals on the finished version (which I won't burden you with) sounded extremely Jefferson Airplane-like. Which, I can assure you, made for an interesting stylistic synthesis, if not perhaps interesting enough to have gotten the band signed.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Thursday, February 02, 2017

The Fire This Time

Just got my brand new Danelectro 12-string back from the music shop where it was set up by trained professionals...

...and here's the first song I'm going to learn and cover.

In case you don't know that band (and the 1987 record the song is from), Fire Town were an early project of Butch Vig, who played drums and produced the thing in his home studio. It's a great album, but in case you're thinking of buying the CD, be warned that the only available version -- on Wounded Bird, a label that usually does good things -- is mastered, shall we say, unflatteringly.

In any case, I can't wait to get that opening riff down; I can still remember the chills I got when I put the vinyl on for the first time all those years ago.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Baby It's Cold Outside

From sometime in the early 80s, please enjoy the utterly amazing The Shivvers and their should have been a huge fricking single hit "Please Stand By."

Great video, but the sound sorta sucks. So here's the actual track in high fidelity.

Damn, those guys were good. Having been in a skinny tie band at the same time, I gotta say -- if I had encountered them in a club, I probably would have wanted to kill myself from jealousy.